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Jurors find Williams eligible for death penalty

By Star-Advertiser

& Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 3:15 p.m. HST, May 23, 2014

U.S. District Court jurors in Honolulu decided Friday that former Schofield Barracks soldier Naeem J. Williams is eligible for the death penalty.

The same jury last month found Williams guilty of capital murder for the child abuse beating death of his 5-year-old daughter Talia. They began deliberating Thursday on whether the former Schofield Barracks soldier is eligible for the death penalty, and reached their decision Friday afternoon.

They now will return to court for the sentencing phase of the trial before U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright to decide whether Williams, 34, will be executed.

Hawaii's territorial government abolished capital punishment in 1957, meaning the death penalty hasn't been an option in Hawaii since it became a state. But Williams was tried in the federal system because the crime occurred on military property.

Williams is facing the death penalty for each of two counts of first-degree murder -- one is for killing Talia Williams on July 16, 2005, through child abuse, and the other is for causing the girl's death after months of assault and torture.

To find Williams eligible for the death penalty, the jurors needed to find that he acted with intent and that there is at least one aggravating factor.

Prosecutor Steven Mellin told the jurors Thursday that Williams knew what he was doing when he beat and tortured the girl. "He intended to inflict serious physical pain and abuse, and he did that," he said.

Mellin said the crimes were made worse because "his actions were incredibly cruel, incredibly heinous," and because the girl was especially vulnerable due to her young age.

Defense lawyer Michael Burt told the jurors that Williams is not challenging the aggravating-factor requirement. He said Williams hit his daughter to discipline her for soiling herself, not to inflict pain or injury. "The evidence does not show that Mr. Williams is a crazed, criminal sociopath," he said.

Burt suggested to the jurors that Williams' desire to change the girl's behavior through discipline was not a demonstration of a level of intent significant enough for them to consider the death penalty.

Following last month's guilty verdict, defense lawyers presented testimony from a psychiatrist, a neuropsychiatrist, a psychologist and two neuropsychologists who said that Williams' scores from multiple IQ tests they administered or reviewed fall within the range or on the borderline of intellectual disability.

The eligibility phase of the trial was essentially a replay of a pretrial hearing after which Seabright ruled that Williams is not mentally disabled.

Prosecutors presented testimony from their own experts who said Williams' IQ test scores, dragged down by a math learning disorder, were in the average to low-average range and that Williams functioned quite well in real-world situations. His former supervisor at Schofield testified that Williams is very able and is among the top 10 of the thousands of soldiers he has supervised in his 18-year military career.

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